Saturday, March 18, 2017

Five Things I Want Incoming Bush Teachers to Know

This weekend is the Alaska Teacher Placement (ATP) Job Fair. At the job fair, much of the recruiting for the upcoming school year is done. Teachers fly from all over to convene in Anchorage. In the coming weeks, other fairs will be held in Portland, Minneapolis, and Austin. In the past I've posted links and stories about topics I think are important for incoming teachers. Here you can find my post about "How to Find a Teaching Job in Alaska." Here you can find my post about "A Day in the Life of an Alaskan Bush Teacher." There are so many things that I think are important for new teachers, especially first year teachers, to know before they take the leap and head out on this great adventure.

With all of these things in mind, I thought I would share my top five tidbits that I think incoming bush teachers need to know. There are definitely more than just five important things to know, but these specific things have been on my mind lately and I wanted to share.

//Five Things I Want Incoming Bush Teachers to Know//
  1. Teaching in the bush is unlike teaching anywhere else. There are a lot of unique things about living in rural Alaska, and teaching seems to further amplify all of them. For starters, your relationships with your students, especially in small sites, is extremely different than anywhere else. In urban areas, it would be seen as very inappropriate to have students at your house. In our community though, a chorus of, "can I visit??" follows us constantly. There are also many cultural norms, like raising your eyebrows to indicate that you agree, that you have to get used to. Because of all of these new things, it is incredibly important to be an adaptable person and to remember that you do not always know what is the best or the most culturally-relevant for your students. 
  2. Involving yourself in the community is important. Many rural communities are used to teachers being very insular, or even leaving their village after mere months (heck, some teachers don't even make it off of the airplane). It can be hard for the locals to accept new teachers because of how often they've been burned in the past. It took us many months, but we've slowly worked our way into a routine of getting invited to do things out and about. Now, we regularly get invited to play cards, take a steam, go ice fishing, and etc. It definitely took time to form these relationships though, and we wouldn't be nearly as content with life here without them. 
  3. You must be content with yourself. Teaching here is incredibly isolating in a lot of ways. As a person, you really have to be ok being alone with your own thoughts. A negative person or someone with self-destructive tendencies would struggle immensely in such an unforgiving place. Being content also applies to your family that comes to live in Alaska with you. Cody and I had to really work to create some kind of balance because we see each other 24hrs/day (literally). We work in the same classroom all day, we come home together, and then we repeat the next day. Our relationship has grown stronger, but it has also been tested. All personal and familial problems will be magnified, so it's important to weigh the considerations of your own sanity before you take the leap. 
  4. The winters are long.  The Alaska Peninsula, where I live, experiences far less extreme temperatures and daylight patterns than much of Alaska. However, it doesn't matter where you are in this state - the winter will be long. The sun won't rise until after 10am, and it will be dark by the time you get out of work. In some places, you may not see the sun for months. Some people, like myself, don't mind the lack of sun too much. There is a big difference between "not minding" something and "being happy" about something though. If you are new to the state, the winters will affect you. Take some vitamin D, stock up on hobbies, and make sure that you are keeping yourself busy and happy. 
  5. The kids will get very attached to you, and vice versa. The kids in rural Alaska can be amazing. I may be a bit biased, but I think Pilot Point kids are some of the world's best. They are kind, thoughtful, loving, affectionate, smart, witty, and independent. My relationship with my students is so personal because we see each other every single day. We work one-on-one in our classroom, they follow me on walks after school, and on the weekends they help me grocery shop. Early in the year, we didn't have such a close relationship. They were, understandably, a bit slow-to-warm because of how regular teacher turnover has been here. As the months passed though, and they realized we were committed to staying all year, their warmth towards me (and Cody) grew exponentially. 
Teaching in the bush is an amazing adventure. However, it isn't for everyone. For us, living in the bush seems to work, and we intend to keep doing what we're doing for the foreseeable future. In fact, my contract has already been signed for next year. We will be returning to Pilot Point in August for another year of adventure and wonder.

As always, if you're interested in coming to the bush - send me a message! I'd be happy to answer any questions that you have and offer support, advice, or just an ear to bounce ideas off of.

Your turn...What are some tips you would like to offer newbies at your job?
Currently listening to...Love is All - Tallest Man on Earth

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Pilot Point Carnival '17

In many of the villages in our district, "Carnival" is a big deal. Carnival is a weekend of fun events, hosted by the village. We'd been hearing about Pilot Point's Winter Carnival practically since we stepped off of the airplane back in August. The kids are constantly raving about it and asking us things like, "Are you going to dance with me at the Carnival dance?!" With the students so excited,  I couldn't help getting a bit hyped up about it myself.

Friday afternoon we released from school at lunchtime and then the village officially kicked off the Carnival with a kids cooking competition hosted at the school. This was probably one of my favorite events of the whole Carnival because the kids were so incredibly excited about it. The competition was set-up like the show Chopped. The kids each had a basket of "mystery ingredients" and they were given one hour to create an edible dinner meal. Each kid was assigned an adult to help them chop things, get supplies, open packages, and other safety-type things, but the adults weren't allowed to give any meal/cooking ideas. The winning dish ended up being a great curry that one of our fifth grade boys whipped up.

Other fun events that we participated in on Friday included: a poker run, scavenger hunt, dinner hosted at the school, and a dance. Our village flew in a band from the neighboring village of Kokhanok. The band was missing a drummer, but they were in luck - Cody keeps a great drum kit at our house here! So, Cody joined the band and ended up playing three nights in a row. He had so much fun getting to play with an actual band for a change, as opposed to just jamming at the house solo. The kids also enjoyed seeing Cody play, some of the littlest kiddos even got a drum lesson from him one evening. Meanwhile, I was recruited by the little girls to dance non-stop the entirety of the band's performance.

The second day of Carnival began in the morning with a community breakfast. After breakfast, there were many events planned. The first event of the day was the Air Drop. For the drop, a local pilot flew really low over a designated spot (this year it was Loon Lake behind the school), and he threw candy and prizes out of his airplane window. Everyone in town ran around the lake trying to collect the items. It was a freezing morning for the event, with temps in the single digits and waist-deep snow drifts on the lake, but we still had a blast.

Throughout the rest of Carnival we continued to try and participate in as many events as possible. We played bingo, ate dinner at the big community feast, went to the dance every night, played the raffles and cakewalks, and what seems like a million other little things. By Sunday, we were exhausted. Lucky for everyone else, there was no school on Monday or Tuesday following Winter Carnival. Unlucky for me, I had to travel for basketball early on Monday morning and didn't get to enjoy the necessary recuperation time after all of the excitement. Even with the extreme busyness of the weekend, I couldn't help but feel extremely happy that we got to participate in such a unique community event. I'm already counting down until Winter Carnival 2018!

Your turn...Does your community have any unique events that they celebrate?
Currently listening to...Move to the Mountains - Clock Opera